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This Day in College Basketball History: March 19, 1998 - Rip Hamilton's Sweet 16 Buzzer Beater helps #2 UConn knock off #11 Washington en route to the Elite 8

Even though UConn didn't come away with the 1998 NCAA title, Rip Hamilton's Sweet 16 Buzzer Beater was one of the program's iconic moments. PIC: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images



The 1997-98 season for the UConn Huskies was a captivating season by all standards. Led by a veteran core hungry for the program's national championship, the Huskies were once again right in the mix all season long. They boasted three eventual NBA Draft picks - electrifying point guard Khalid El-Amin, the bruiser center Jake Voskuhl, and the ever-reliable Richard Hamilton, a future NBA star known for his clutch performances – affectionately nicknamed "Rip."


Jim Calhoun's UConn Huskies dominated the 1997-98 regular season, racking up a 29-4 record and earning a coveted #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Their path to the Sweet Sixteen wasn't without challenges. They faced a gritty #15 Fairleigh Dickinson team - the NEC Champions - in the first round, escaping with a back-and-forth barnburner 93-85 victory. The second round presented another test against #7 Indiana - who was knocked out in the Quarterfinal of the Big Ten tournament - which they passed with a convincing 78-68 win.


However, the Sweet Sixteen matchup against #11 Washington was a different beast altogether. The underdog Washington had played with a relentless energy throughout the entire tournament - after all, they had been making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1986 and had taken their first win since 1984. Even at an #11 seed, Washington was determined to pull off an upset from the first game - they pulled out a 69-68 win over #6 Xavier in the first round, and cruised to an 81-66 victory over #14 Richmond in the Round of 32.


UConn-Washington transformed into a back-and-forth battle, with neither team able to establish a significant lead. UConn, accustomed to controlling games all year, got off to the upper-hand, taking a 47-39 lead into the locker room after 20 minutes.


But in the second half, it was a different story. UConn found themselves frustrated by Washington's tenacious defense, and was only held to 26 points down the stretch.


With 29 seconds remaining, madness broke out. Washington guard Brandon Roy drilled a jumper, putting his team ahead 74-73. The UConn crowd at Greensboro Coliseum in North Carolina fell silent, the weight of a potential upset hanging heavy in the air.


Jim Calhoun, well-known for his fiery demeanor and tactical brilliance, called a timeout. The pressure was immense. UConn's championship aspirations hung in the balance. Out of the timeout, Calhoun drew up a play designed for Hamilton, their most reliable scorer in clutch situations.


El-Amin inbounded the ball. After about 15 seconds of spreading the floor and getting their formation set, El-Amin drove to the basket. Jake Voskuhl set a screen, freeing him up near the free-throw line, and El-Amin passed. Voskuhl tried a contested short jumper, which just barely clanked off the rim and out. Washington couldn't haul in the rebound, however, and the ball found itself in Hamilton's hand, who tried a putback floater to no avail either. Hamilton collected one final offensive rebound, and found a sliver of space in the lane with 1 second left.


Time seemed to stand still as Rip Hamilton rose for a fadeaway jumper, a signature move honed through time. CBS play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough's call says it all.



The buzzer sounded, the shot fell, and the crowd erupted in a frenzy. A wave of blue and white surged onto the court from the UConn bench. Hamilton, usually stoic, let out a roar of triumph. "Rip's Buzzer Beater," as it would be forever immortalized, had saved UConn's season.


The 75-74 victory over Washington remains a defining moment in UConn basketball history. It showcased Hamilton's clutch ability and solidified the team's belief in their championship potential. Though they ultimately fell short in the next round to North Carolina, "Rip's Buzzer Beater" serves as a testament to the drama and resilience that make March Madness a truly unforgettable spectacle.


Of course, UConn went on to win their first national championship the year after, starting a new era of Connecticut basketball in which they'd go on to win several national championships in the coming decades.


"Oh what a knockdown in the history of UConn basketball," said Bill Raftery after the shot. He got that one right.

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